Maddy Dhesi, writer and first year politics student, is campaigning for changes to the Elections Bill. She discusses the importance of students being informed about the Bill, and what the changes mean.
The Elections Bill is making important changes to elections held in the UK. Though the Elections Bill is going through the UK Parliament, it still carries huge consequences for elections held in Scotland. The most notorious of these changes is voter ID.
The UK Government is making it mandatory for voters to have to present photo ID in order to be able to vote. This will apply to General Elections throughout the UK, PCC elections in Wales and England, and all Elections held in England. For Scotland, this means Scottish Parliament elections will not require photo ID, but UK General Elections will.
The idea behind voter ID is to prevent electoral fraud in the UK. However, in 2019, there were only six cases of ballot fraud and in 2018 and 2019, the trials requiring voters to present ID saw over 100 people not returning to vote after being turned away for not having ID. Voter ID is a solution that creates many more problems.
“In 2018 and 2019, the trials requiring voters to present ID saw over 100 people not returning to vote after being turned away for not having ID.”
If the Voter ID bill passes, the Government says that a free Electoral Identity Card would be issued to those without ID. As a result of experiencing hundreds of cases of ballot fraud in 1985, Northern Ireland has an electoral identity card scheme in place. But it is estimated that over 3.5 million people in the UK are without photo ID – almost double the whole population of Northern Ireland. The cost of issuing Electoral Identity cards for such a large amount of people is forecasted to increase the cost of General Elections by £20,000,000. A heavy price with high consequences that even Conservative members are raising concerns at. Former Brexit Minister David Davis warns that the bill could “disenfranchise thousands“.
Access to ID carries disparities amongst many marginalised groups who are already excluded from public life and actively makes it harder for them to participate in elections. These marginalised groups include people from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, people with disabilities, transgender people, people who cannot afford photo ID, and people who could not easily access an electoral identity card scheme if one was implemented. The consequences of voter ID dissuading marginalised groups from voting is a disproportionate response to the minimal threat of voter fraud in the UK.
Furthermore, though voter ID only extends to General Elections in Scotland, the impact will still affect devolved elections held in Scotland. The Scottish Parliament has refused consent for the Elections Bill on the grounds that it would “cause confusion” for voters to have such different rules in Holyrood and General Elections. In fact, if the voter ID were in place for the Welsh Senedd and PCC elections held this May, then a voter showing up without ID to vote would be allowed to vote in the former election, but not the latter. This creates avoidable complications when voting should be as simple as possible.
“The Scottish Parliament has refused consent for the Elections Bill on the grounds that it would “cause confusion” for voters to have such different rules in Holyrood and General Elections.”
The Elections Bill is also changing EU citizens’ voting rights in England and Northern Ireland. In Wales and Scotland, all residents – no matter their nationality – have the right to vote in devolved elections. But in England and Northern Ireland, the Elections Bill is changing EU citizens’ voting eligibility so that only those with pre-settled or settled status who arrived before 2021 retain the right to vote in local elections. For those who have arrived in the UK after 2021, they do not have the right to vote unless their country of origin holds a bilateral treaty agreement with the UK.
These changes to EU citizens’s voting rights are so complicated that they will deter even those who are able to vote from voting. Both Scotland and Wales allow all residents to vote in local and national elections, as a result, refugees were able to vote for the first time this May. Instead of widening who has the right to vote, the Government is limiting who can. A residency based approach to voting rights would allow everybody who is a member of a community to have a say. Migrants are already underrepresented in UK politics, and the current approach squanders this opportunity to give more people a say.
The Elections Bill is full of actions that will make it harder for people to vote when, in the face of growing inequalities and injustices, it is important that as many people have their voices heard as possible.
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